After losing Austin Herink to graduation and seeing Logan Marchi leave the program, Sanders had nobody under center with any college experience, so he brought in transfers Cade Weldon (Miami) and Chance Thrasher (Coastal Carolina), giving the Bucs some experience — major college experience — at the position.
“We’ve been fortunate to be able to get a couple of new guys in,” Sanders said Monday during the Southern Conference’s media day. “I wish we could have had them in for spring practice, but having them there for the month of June and July, no question, we benefited.
“I believe we have quarterbacks on campus that are capable, but we have to get out there and find out. When they look good on paper is different than how they look on grass.”
Sanders said he hopes the quarterbacks will make his choice as the starter an easy one once they get into fall camp. The first official practice is Aug. 2.
“Just going through all the years of having quarterback competitions, when the guys can get on the field and solve it themselves, that’s when you know,” Sanders said. “Hopefully one of them will win the job, take it over, by the time we get to the first game.”
That’s not to say he won’t be afraid to change his mind. Sanders switched quarterbacks last year after Marchi proved to be interception-prone in the early going, inserting Herink into the lineup after the lefty had started every game for his first three years. The result was a conference championship and the historic run to the playoffs.
“We’re not afraid to make a change at running back, at wide receiver, on the O-line or at quarterback,” Sanders said. “There’s no reason to be afraid to make a change at any position. I tell the guys the best players are going to play. Their challenge is to be one of those best players. It doesn’t matter who you are, what position you play or what you’ve done in the past. It’s just a matter of who can give us the best chance to win on Saturday. That’s the guys we want on the field.”
With new guys coming in from FCS programs, it would be easy for them to bring attitudes when stepping down a level. ETSU offensive lineman Ben Blackmon says that hasn’t been the case with the new quarterbacks.
“They’re not very egotistical guys,” Blackmon said. “They’re both hardworking and competitive guys. They’re very much ‘we’ motivated, which is really how our system works.”
Blackmon has worked out with both quarterbacks throughout the summer and he likes what he sees from the new players.
“They’re both good at different things,” he said. “They’re working hard and we really appreciate that. We’re looking forward to camp and seeing how it goes.”
Blackmon and teammate Tre’mond Shorts were both second-team selections on the preseason All-Southern Conference team, so the Bucs’ offensive line is expected to continue its upward trend.
“There were definitely some growing pains,” Blackmon said, laughing at the literal meaning of his comment. “We had our problems. We had our struggles. Now most of us are upperclassmen or at least played a full season. We expect to play well and open holes for our running backs, protect our quarterbacks and win some ballgames.”
Quay Holmes, the SoCon’s freshman of the year last season, and Jacob Saylors helped form one of the top running back duos in the league.
“They’re both very good,” Blackmon said. “They bring different aspects to the game. We do our job and they make us look good.”
Those running backs, both entering their sophomore seasons, are often quick to credit the guys fighting in the trenches for their success.
“That’s very nice,” Blackmon said. “As an offensive lineman, we don’t ask for the credit. We don’t ask for the limelight, but it’s nice when they show us appreciation for what we do.”